We are witnessing one of the most competitive World Cups in recent times. Three of the eight last 16 matches were decided by tie-breakers, four were determined by just a one goal difference while Brazil beat Mexico by a two-goal margin, despite the Selecao being outplayed in the first half. The Round of 16 also saw last edition’s runners up side Argentina, 2010 champion Spain and current Euro champion Portugal bow out of the tournament. Also, host Russia created history, England broke their tie-breaker hoodoo and Japan made a heartbreaking exit at the hands of high-scoring Belgium. Here, we discuss eight talking points from the last 16.
Getting lots of people asking me about Messi's future with Argentina. I won't pretend I know but if I had to guess, I would say he stays on. But I have zero information on it. Purely a guess.— Roy Nemer (@RoyNemer) July 2, 2018
Argentine veterans lost to the pace of French youth
It was a blockbuster start to the Round of 16 where last edition’s runners-up were overshadowed by an energetic French side, especially Kylian Mbappe, in a seven-goal thriller. The PSG star threatened the Albiceleste defence from start to finish at a fully-packed Kazan Arena. The teenager not only scored two wonderful goals in quick succession in the second half to give Les Blues the lead, but he also earned a penalty in the initial phase of the match with his excessive pace after getting the ball due to lose control from the Argentines at the halfway mark. The spot-kick was converted into the opening goal by Antoine Griezmann, who also threatened the opponent’s terrain several times. The vastly experienced Argentina side, led by Lionel Messi, despite boasting a temporary lead after a stunner from Angel di Maria followed by a lucky deflection from Gabriel Mercado, failed to maintain their pace against the men in blue and had to bury their World Cup dream once again. The result saw two of the old guards, Javier Mascherano and Lucas Biglia hang up their boots for the national team.
Suarez among the millions of Uruguayans waiting for news on Cavani's fitness pic.twitter.com/9XcfvB9owG— Goal (@goal) July 4, 2018
Cavani, Suarez too hot to handle
Like Messi, his closest competitor in current football Cristiano Ronaldo was denied his World Cup run owing to a solid display by the Uruguayan forwards. Edinson Cavani played one of his best games in recent times, scoring two wonderful goals before leaving the field due to injury. Uruguay will be hoping for a quick Cavani recovery before their quarter-final against France. Ronaldo, who had already scored four goals in the tournament, failed to score this time around in Sochi. But it was Pepe, another veteran Portuguese, who gave the Euro champion hope with an equaliser sandwiched between the two Cavani goals. Luis Suarez also played a vital role and was very vibrant as the Uruguayans maintained the lead till the end.
Igor Akinfeev is the hero for Russia!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 1, 2018
Russia win 4-3 on penalties. pic.twitter.com/G8wz2uOAXI
Akinfeev replicates Yashin at Luzhniki
Russia maintained their fairytale run and proved to everyone their group stage performances weren’t a fluke as they stunned 2010 world champion Spain in the tie-breaker. When Igor Akinfeev denied Iago Aspas with a wonderful reflex via his left foot, the whole of Russia broke into joy. Russia have always been famous for producing some wonderful goalkeepers over the years. Lev Yashin, the only player to win the best European player trophy as a goalkeeper, was arguably one of the best in his business. And the performance of Akinfeev reminded people of this great keeper who was affectionately called “Black Spider”. The host, despite trailing by a Sergei Ignashevich own goal, equalised after Gerard Pique conceded a handball that resulted in a contentious penalty. The disappointment forced their legend Andres Iniesta to retire from the national team on a sad note.
I just don’t think there’s a better centre midfielder in football than Luka Modric— Matt Craig (@MattHDGamer) July 1, 2018
Modric misses, scores penalty
Croatia won the all-European tie as a deserving winner against Denmark after a 1-1 draw took the game to tie-breaker. The game started with two quickfire goals in just the opening four minutes by Mathias Jorgensen and Mario Mandzukic for their respective sides, and set up for a great show in Nizhny Novgorod. Croat captain Luka Modric got a fantastic chance to seal the game in extra time but failed to score from the penalty. But the Real Madrid midfielder did not repeat the mistake in the shootout where half of the 10 shots were missed by players from both teams. Danijel Subasic came to the rescue for Croatia, saving three Denmark shots to take his team to the quarters.
Neymar getting back to full form
The tie between Brazil and Mexico was a historical one and for the fifth time in the World Cup the El Tri failed to score against the Selecao despite making a bright start in the opening half. Brazil were on the back foot before the break after several attacks by Hirving Lozano, Carlos Vela and Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez. A moment of brilliance by Neymar earned him a goal, followed by nice work from Willian. Neymar also set up the second goal for Roberto Firmino to seal the game. Now Marcelo’s fitness and Gabriel Jesus’ goal drought are the only concerns for Brazil before the quarter-final.
What a fight, what a game! Team spirit got us through today’s challenge! Belgium, keep going and keep on dreaming! Friday we take on Brazil! #Belgium #Japan #WorldCup #Russia #Brazil #REDTOGETHER pic.twitter.com/JyZe8KQbVq— Vincent Kompany (@VincentKompany) July 2, 2018
Red Devils show signs of champion
Japan, the only Asian representative in the last 16, almost shocked the world when they were leading 2-0 till the 74th minute against a free-scoring Belgium side. But their coach Akira Nishino’s decision to play the same way till the end arguably cost them their dream in the eleventh hour. Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini and Nacer Chadli all scored late to gave the Red Devils’ manager Roberto Martinez relief and joy at the dying moments. Belgium, who scored 11 goals in four matches, will be brimming with confidence after this remarkable comeback when they meet all-time favourite Brazil in Kazan in the last eight.
TFW you score at the World Cup!— UEFA Nations League (@UEFAEURO) July 3, 2018
🇸🇪 Emil Forsberg ⚽️💪 pic.twitter.com/TxBJ4mI94U
Sweden hold their nerve
Emil Forsberg scored the all-important goal in the 66th minute to earn Sweden a last 16 win against another European nation Switzerland. This result saw the Swedes end their 24-year long quarter-final drought. It however, was not achieved in a convincing way. Switzerland had large parts of ball possession and were also the better side as far as the stats were concerned. But the desperate mentality to win the game helped the Swedes stay strong till the final whistle.
England end tiebreaker jinx in WC
A wonderful reflex save by English goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, followed by cool and calm composure from Eric Dier earned the Three Lions their first ever win in a penalty shootout at the World Cup. Colombia, without their charismatic captain James Rodriguez, played some hard football. England went ahead via a Harry Kane penalty. But the third goal in the World Cup for Colombian defender Yerry Mina in additional time after 90 minutes broke the hearts of the English fans as they feared yet another heartbreak in the tie-breaker. This time around however, the young English side wrote their own history at Spartak Stadium in Moscow.